Population genetics of the nurse shark

Published online on 05. November 2011

Population genetics of the nurse shark (Ginglymostoma cirratum)
in the western Atlantic

Stephen A. Karl, Andrey L. F. Castro, Ricardo C. Garla


The nurse shark, Ginglymostoma cirratum, inhabits shallow, tropical, and subtropical waters in the Atlantic and the eastern Pacific. Unlike many other species of sharks, nurse sharks are remarkably sedentary. We assayed the mitochondrial control region and eight microsatellite loci from individuals collected primarily in the western Atlantic to estimate the degree of population subdivision. Two individuals from the eastern Atlantic and one from the Pacific coast of Panama also were genotyped. Overall, the mtDNA haplotype (h = 48 ± 5%) and nucleotide (π = 0.08 ± 0.06%) diversities were low. The microsatellite data mirror the mitochondrial results with the average number of alleles (NA = 9) and observed heterozygosity (HO = 0.58) both low. The low levels of diversity seen in both the mtDNA and the microsatellite may be due to historical sea level fluctuations and concomitant loss of shallow water habitat. Eight of the 10 pair-wise western Atlantic F ST estimates for mtDNA indicated significant genetic subdivision. Pair-wise F ST values for the microsatellite loci indicated a similar pattern as the mtDNA. The western Atlantic population of nurse sharks is genetically subdivided with the strongest separation seen between the offshore islands and mainland Brazil, likely due to deep water acting as a barrier to dispersal. The eastern and western Atlantic populations were closely related. The eastern Pacific individual is quite different from Atlantic individuals and may be a cryptic, sister species.

Marine Biology DOI: 10.1007/s00227-011-1828-y




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